The Souls of Black Folk

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Alexander Crummell Character Analysis

Like Booker T. Washington, Alexander Crummell also gets his own chapter in The Souls of Black Folk, although Du Bois’ presentation of Crummell is much more flattering. Indeed, Du Bois’ inclusion of the chapter on Crummell works to show an alternative model of black leadership to Washington’s conciliatory approach. Like Washington, Crummell was born during slavery, although unlike Washington his family members were free and living in the North. Despite facing immense racist opposition, Crummell managed to study and be ordained as an Episcopal Priest. He then went on to study at the University of Cambridge, England, where he devised the concept of Pan-Africanism, which advocated the unification of all black people in North and South America, the Caribbean, and Africa, in order to end racist injustice. Crummell went to live in Liberia for 20 years, before returning to the United States. Du Bois contrasts Crummell with Washington, but also with John Jones. Both Crummell and Jones are faced with the temptation to become embittered, to give up hope, and to doubt if they are doing the right thing. They are both subjected to humiliation and find themselves in highly dangerous situations. However, Jones, unlike Crummell, succumbs to these temptations, and eventually perishes in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Although Crummell’s story serves as an inspirational model within the book, its juxtaposition alongside the story of John Jones reminds the reader that the success Crummell achieved was near miraculous.

Alexander Crummell Quotes in The Souls of Black Folk

The The Souls of Black Folk quotes below are all either spoken by Alexander Crummell or refer to Alexander Crummell. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of The Souls of Black Folk published in 2012.
Chapter 12 Quotes

Of all the three temptations, this one struck the deepest. Hate? He had out- grown so childish a thing. Despair? He had steeled his right arm against it, and fought it with the vigor of determination. But to doubt the worth of his life-work,––to doubt the destiny and capability of the race his soul loved because it was his… this, this seemed more than man could bear.

Related Characters: W.E.B. Du Bois (speaker), Alexander Crummell
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

Du Bois has told the story of Alexander Crummell’s early life, indicating that as a young man he was tested by three “temptations”––Hate, Despair, and Doubt. This passage describes Doubt, the final temptation, as the worst of all. While it is comparably easy to overcome hate and despair, the urge to doubt himself and his very race is something from which Crummell almost does not recover. All three temptations are brought about by racist incidents, but only doubt makes Crummell resent black people in particular, rather than the world and its racist nature. Du Bois uses this tale—which in many ways resembles a Biblical or mythic story—in order to warn the reader against falling into doubt, while simultaneously showing how easy it is for this to happen.

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Alexander Crummell Character Timeline in The Souls of Black Folk

The timeline below shows where the character Alexander Crummell appears in The Souls of Black Folk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 12: Of Alexander Crummell
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Du Bois says that he first met Alexander Crummell at “a Wilberforce commencement season”; the two conversed, and Crummell seemed like a seer not... (full context)
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
Crummell was born during slavery, and his mother lived in fear “lest the shadows bear him... (full context)
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
Crummel was tempted by Despair upon finding that the Episcopal Theological Seminary would not admit a... (full context)
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
Crummell admitted to the Bishop he had failed, and this Bishop sent him to Bishop Onderdonk... (full context)
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Du Bois remarks on Crummell’s remarkable pilgrimage, and suggests that if the reader finds the riddle of the “temptations” and... (full context)